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Federal authorities select Mass General Brigham for study on long-term effects of COVID-19

Dr. Anne Klibanski, head of Mass General Brigham, at an April coronavirus briefing.
Dr. Anne Klibanski, head of Mass General Brigham, at an April coronavirus briefing.Sam Doran/Pool

Infectious disease and data specialists at Mass General Brigham, the health care juggernaut that includes Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General hospitals, have been tapped by federal authorities to research the long-term effects of COVID-19.

In a statement Monday, Mass General Brigham said the National Institutes of Health had selected its research team as part of the federal agency’s PASC Initiative; the acronym PASC stands for Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The initiative’s aimed at determining the prevalence of and risk factors for long-term COVID-19 complications, as well as developing treatment and prevention strategies, according to the statement.

Mass General Brigham said its researchers were chosen to contribute to the collection, coordination, and analysis of data on PASC patients, including so-called COVID-19 “long-haulers,” throughout the nation. The research team, the statement said, will serve as the PASC Data Resource Core.

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That core, the statement said, will provide expertise on study design and work on the collection and analysis of data across different studies. The team’s led by Dr. Andrea Foulkes, chief of biostatistics at Massachusetts General Hospital; Dr. Elizabeth Karlson, director of rheumatic disease epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; and Dr. Shawn Murphy, chief research information officer at Mass General Brigham.

There will also be “complementary teams” from Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the statement said, adding that the PASC Data Resource Core is a four-year, multimillion dollar project getting started “immediately.”

“Our hospitals have been on the frontlines of this devastating pandemic and we have mobilized every resource available, but we still don’t know for certain what the long-term health impacts will be for the tens of thousands of patients we cared for or how widespread the long-term public health consequences will be,” said Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and chief executive of Mass General Brigham, in the statement.

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Through research and discovery, Klibanski continued, “Mass General Brigham is committed to being at the forefront of the public health response so that we can better understand this complicated illness for our patients and others who have been impacted — locally, nationally and throughout the world.”

Her comments were echoed by Dr. Ravi Thadhani, Mass General Brigham’s chief academic officer.

“We are so proud of our talented research leaders at Mass General Brigham who immediately and skillfully responded to the request of the NIH for the patient, medical, and scientific communities to come together,” Thadhani said in the statement. “In partnership with the NIH, and most importantly for the benefit of our patients, we look forward to better understanding, managing, and hopefully preventing and treating the long-term medical consequences of this trying infection.”

The so-called “long-haulers” are an estimated 10 percent to 30 percent of COVID-19 survivors who remain ill months after their infection, including many whose initial infections were mild, the Globe reported in April.

A March study of 100 such patients found that 85 had at least five neurological symptoms, including “brain fog,” headache, numbness or tingling, loss of smell and taste, muscle pain, and dizziness.

A larger study found that, among 236,379 COVID-19 patients, in the six months after infection one-third were diagnosed with at least one of 14 psychiatric or neurological disorders, ranging from depression to stroke.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.

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Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.